Archive for July, 2007

Wanted: Vendors Who Actually (And ACTIVELY) Listen

Monday, July 30th, 2007

In my experience, party vendors (including planners, florists, decorators, caterers, bands, and deejays) can be divided into Group 1 – those who go home after the event and sleep well, as long as they did every single thing they were told, and Group 2 – a smaller number who only sleep well if the party was a stunning success.

I confess to being a Group 2 guy.

Why? Because every hostess, every bride, and – indeed – every person I’ve ever worked for had the same goal in mind: the best event ever. No matter what unrealistic instructions they gave me, what they were really saying was, “I want a great party!”

What am I calling unrealistic instructions? Well, nowhere does the inexperience of the typical bride show up more than in her timelines. Often, their schedules will read “8:00PM – ring the chimes for dinner. 8:05 – announce the bride and groom.” Which would be fine, if the bride and groom really wanted to be announced while 50% of their guests are still out in the foyer. Given the choice of doing what the bride told me, or waiting until the majority of the guests have sauntered into the room, I’m going to wait.

Brides also frequently budget 5 minutes for the first dance (when 1 minute flat is usually ample – 5 minutes would seem like an eternity), as well as for the invocation (again – one minute at the outside.)

We Group 2 folks engage in a process called active listening. Active listeners tend to pose lots of questions. If told by a hostess that she wants “no Country Music,” I might ask, “Do you mean that I shouldn’t play any Country unless one of your guests requests it, or that I shouldn’t play it even then?” Because most hosts want their guests to have a good time, they will often – after pondering such a question – modify their previous edict.

Active listeners also try to discern what our employers mean, rather than what they literally say. If a bride tells me to play a “fast song,” she’s probably talking about something that is reasonably hip, rather than just up-tempo.

A final way that Groups 1 and 2 differ is by that old aphorism, “The Customer Is Always Right.” Some Group 1 vendors take that statement so literally that they will – without a word of warning or complaint – allow their employer to make choices which sabotage their own party’s chances for success. Others, like me, feel a moral obligation to at least alert our bosses to the potential down-side of their decisions.

Bosses are not required to listen to the pros working for them. But those who choose to ignore their event veterans do so at considerable risk to the enterprise which is consuming vast amounts of their time and money: their “perfect” party. Which is why – in every endeavor – the smart bosses do keep an open mind as their experts speak.

When such communication leads to a fantastic event, both employer and vendor can sleep well – knowing their joint efforts led to a dazzling success.

Rx. For $$$ Fundraisers: Plan Ahead!

Monday, July 16th, 2007

This past week, I sat in on a strategy session for a charity fundraiser. The event is still over 6 months away. And this was but one of the committee’s regular gatherings!

Charity events require just this type of advance planning, in order to create the step-by-step stairway to success. Here are a few of those steps:

1. An Underwriter’s Party. Invite to dinner at your home some of those who are both well-heeled and well-disposed to your cause. Ask them to bring their checkbooks. Lay out your hopes for the charity event, as well as your plans for the proceeds. Explain to them that, by their underwriting of the evening, every single penny that comes in will go to the charity. You will use their “seed money” as your party’s budget – for advertising, venue, food and drink, and entertainment.

2. Creative Auction Packages. Anyone involved in your charity who has a lake house, mountain retreat, or even a time-share by the sea can volunteer their home-away-from-home as part of an auction item. Add someone else’s unused air miles, and – Bam! – you have a package: round-trip air and accomodations! Wine experts, gourmet cooks, and others with special skills can donate their time and expertise. Those with tickets to sporting or musical events can offer to stay home for one night, giving their seats to the highest bidders. All of these are prizes someone will gladly bid on, and which have cost you nothing from your budget.

3. Balancing Success And Fun. Your primary goal is to raise money for your worthy cause. But – in order for you to remain successful, year-in and year-out – you have to throw a wonderful party! Continually put yourself in the position of the party guest: what will make this a stellar event? Never lose sight of the fun factor. If your guests feel unappreciated, they won’t be back – no matter how lofty your charitable goal.

4. Put A Pro On The Microphone. Local television personalities and sports team announcers are experienced speakers. They know how to get the audience’s attention, then hold it. They also bring glamor to your event. Then, for your live auction, nothing tops a professional auctioneer at raising the most money on every item. This is too important for your success to turn over to a well-meaning, but uninspiring, volunteer.

5. Get Everybody Possible Involved. Finally, recruit an army to spread the word for you. Scout troops, youth groups, and service organizations are good sources. The more people you have promoting your event, the more successful it will be. But, the real key is to start now!

Could I Have This Dance?

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Albert Einstein was once asked to express his Theory of Relativity in simple terms. He responded, “When you are with a person you like, a really long time can seem short. But when you are with someone you don’t like, even a short time can seem long.”

And when you are the only couple on the dance floor – performing the Bride and Groom’s First Dance, or the Daddy Dance that follows – that short time can seem endless. So here are a few suggestions that can keep a “long” time from being even l-o-n-g-e-r.

1. Cut The Song Short. It only takes about one minute for the photo and video folks to capture indelible images of you tripping the light fantastic while the crowd applauds. If you choose to stay on the dance floor longer than that, it should only be because you are wonderful dancers who are savoring this moment. Otherwise, have your band or DJ fade out the tune after 60 to 90 seconds.

2. Cut-In The Next Dancer. By piggy-backing the Bride and Groom’s Dance with the Daddy Dance, instead of stopping Song 1, then starting Song 2, you save time and aggravation. Stick with the original song, but cue Dad to cut-in after a minute or so.

3. Cut To The Chase. The sooner you get everyone out on the dance floor, the better it is for the reception. To accomplish this, send out Bride and Groom for the first minute, then have Dad cut in for 30 seconds or so, followed by the wedding party. At this point, have your band or DJ invite “Everyone who joins in the celebration of this marriage” to come on down!

Even if these ceremonial dances are followed by dinner, your guests will have already been out on the dance floor. And when they’ve danced once, it’s so much easier to get them out again for the second, third, and twenty-fourth times!

“Do We HAVE To Invite _____?”

Monday, July 9th, 2007

That famous philospher (and DWI suspect) Rodney King once asked, “Can’t we all just get along?” Unfortunately, as Rodney himself discovered, there are times when the sad answer to that question is, “no!”

So, what do you do when you are hosting a party, and there is someone you really don’t want to invite, who just happens to be a close family member, neighbor, classmate, or business associate? The spectrum of possibilities includes:

1. Don’t Invite Them. Planning an event is stressful enough. If this person’s presence will ruin the evening for you, and if you are prepared to accept any repercussions (like being cut out of the will), then nuts to them!

2. Invite Them – Conditionally. At a recent dinner, one normally-loquacious guest told me that our hostess had warned her to not monopolize the conversation in her usual fashion. (In fact, she told me this three separate times.) I see nothing wrong with a host defining the limits of their hospitality to someone who has abused it in the past.

3. Invite Them – Then Let Whatever Happens Happen. You are not responsible for someone else’s misbehavior. And few – if any – of your other guests will ever blame you for the boorish actions of your Problem Friend/Relative/Co-worker. Chances are very good that your “normal” guests will understand the difficult position you were in. As a matter of fact, the chances are excellent that your other guests have been in the same spot themselves (and possibly with this same person.) By inviting him or her in good faith, when they misbehave, you don’t look bad, they do.

Besides, if there is a troubled history between you and this person, there is always the possibility that they won’t show up at all! (Such miracles do happen.)

Who’s Your Daddy?

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

A father-of-the-bride once explained to me his three duties: “Show up, pay up, and shut up!”

Actually, your Dad plays a number of symbolic roles as well. It is he who walks you down the aisle. As host of the wedding reception, he greets your guests and says how happy he is to welcome your groom into the family (whether he really means it or not.) And he fulfills the most sentimental task of the night, as he dances with the beautiful young bride who was so recently his “little girl.”

All of which is not a bit complicated… unless you have two Daddys.

Many of today’s brides must choose between honoring their birth-father or a step-parent they have come to love. The delicacy of such decisions can be agonizing, adding an entire new layer of stress to the proceedings. Under this growing pressure (or the influence of Valium) some will consider the following:

1. Letting both men share the Daddy-duties. In many blended families, your happiness will supercede any old animosities. So, your two “papa bears” could accompany you down the aisle, greet your friends, and dance with you.

2. Or, you might choose to have one Dad for the ceremony and the other for the reception.

3. Finally, you could simply close your eyes, say the word “Daddy,” and see whose face your mind pictures first.

The problem with all these options is: bridal etiquette requires that He Who Pays For The Wedding is your father-of-record for the evening. Thus, unless both gents are chipping in, (or, unless you are paying for the festivities yourself) only the one signing the checks gets to be your “official” Dad that night. Sorry – them’s are the rules.

Even so, once in a great while, a truly selfless and generous step-dad will graciously offer to move out of the spotlight, and allow the first man in his little girl’s life the dance that he himself has paid for and deserves. He does it because he loves the bride with all his heart, and doesn’t want anything to ruin her day.

At which point, someone should ask the lucky bride, “Now – who’s your Daddy?”

“Where Would You Like The Band?” (Part Two)

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

There are two reasons why I have continued this topic over into a second entry:
1.) From experience, I know the subject and have formed very strong opinions on it. And
2.) Where you put the music can truly make or break your party.

So this time, let’s begin with “The End Zone Or The Fifty Yard Line: Which Is Right For You?”

Most ballrooms are rectangles, and many offer you the option of placing your music (band or deejay) at one end of the room (hence “The End Zone”) or in the middle of the long wall (“The 50-Yard Line.”) But how do you decide which one is right for you?

If your music is going to be louder than some of your guests will enjoy, the End Zone is a good choice. Put the stage as far to one side of the room as is possible. Place the dance floor in front of the stage. In the first couple of rows of tables, seat your younger guests. Reserve the back of the room – as far away from the music as possible – for those who will object to an elevated decibel level.

However, if you have someone or something that you wish everyone to be able to see, the 50- Yard Line is the proper spot for you. By placing your stage and dance floor in the middle of the room, none of your guests will feel like you stuck them in “back row” seats.

Warning! Beware if your venue places the stage in front of an “air-wall” (a movable wall designed to cut a large ballroom in half.) Your band or deejay requires electricity, and will need to know in advance if they are expected to bring lots of extra power cables (because air-walls don’t have outlets.)

Another problem with air-walls is that they are not sound-proof. If you are sharing a ballroom with another event (and your groups are divided only by the temporary air-wall), the odds are that you will be disturbing one another all night long. Let me encourage you in the strongest possible terms to avoid this party-ruining possibility. Book another room elsewhere, rent the entire ballroom, or otherwise do whatever is necessary to prevent this needless headache.

Just remember: you are spending a ton of time and money for a perfect party. A poorly-placed stage can sabotage everything you have worked to achieve. Don’t let it.